Candied Jellyfish, Darling?

In Mothballs, Mark brings our attention to yet another Guardian misinformation effort. (“You’ve read 7 articles in the past year” or similar, their website told me when I landed there. Perhaps I would like to dip my hand in my pocket for them? After all, the planet’s future hangs in the balance, or something.)

The article’s title is by itself slightly nonsensical. One would not expect a “Climate Crisis” to bring “unusual” jellyfish. If climate change brings unusual things, we could have called it the “Climate Surprise” or something like that. These new jellies should be toxic or something, not “unusual.”

[Caveat emptor in what follows: I know nothing about jellyfish. Or next to nothing, at any rate. I know a bit about invasive species.]

Anyway, the article does not begin well, illustrating its case with a photo of a Portuguese man o’ war, although they do earn themselves a brownie point by noting that it is “jellyfish-like”*:

What’s the problem with this? Well, as so often at times like this I reach for volume 1 of Sir Alister Hardy’s “The Open Sea” (1956, but I have a later edition). Within, we find these charts:

The caption should read 1945, not 1954. Wilson was not a time traveller.

We can hardly say, the Portuguese man o’ war was abundant in 1945, and it is abundant now, because climate breakdown. One presumes that even the most zealous revisionist would not claim that climate breakdown could be backdated that far.

Britain’s seas are becoming populated with large groups of unusual jellyfish owing to climate breakdown, a survey by the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) has found.

Even if the jelly fauna of the seas around the UK was changing, you would have to be an idiot to simply append “owing to climate breakdown” as a reason for it. What other reasons might there be for such changes, if they are real? You’d have to consider natural cycles and natural irregular irruptions. Pollution (eutrophication, not carbon dioxide). Um, what else? Oh yeh. Overfishing. But before you did that you’d have to make the case that your data proved that the fauna had changed. To do that you would not simply need an inventory of species. Instead you would have to control for effort and the locations that the effort was expended. Most public records of jellyfish are likely to be of washed-up specimens, I would have thought. This is not necessarily a good way to take a census.

Bioluminescent crystal jellyfish made up 3% of total sightings: these animals are nearly completely transparent, but give off an amazing green-blue light under certain circumstances because of the fluorescent protein produced by their bodies. They are usually found in the Pacific Ocean and rarely visit UK waters. One per cent of the sightings were sea gooseberries. Both were the highest percentages reported to date. The new arrivals suggests that warmer temperatures may be affecting jellyfish diversity in the UK.

First of all, as a kid I lived in Lowestoft, which as everyone knows, even the locals, has a beach. The most frequent “jellyfish” we found on the strand in those far-off days were… sea gooseberries. So how their abundance now can be a symptom of anything is unclear. What about the bioluminescent crystal beasts? For this we have a little more research to do, since, as noted, I know nothing about jellyfish.

A good place to go to look at the distribution of marine species is WoRMS, the World Register of Marine Species. Let’s see what it has to say about the distribution of our bioluminescent squishy friend, which I’m going to call Aequorea victoria, even if the Guardian refuses to. Yes, I did have to look the name up. Well, WoRMS has a distribution map, but it isn’t very clear. But from WoRMS you can go to OBIS (Ocean Biodiversity Information System), which has a clearer map and more detail about the species of interest. Here we can clearly see two centres of distribution – one, its “home range” off BC, and the other on the British Isles’ continental shelf…

…or can we? No, we can’t. The data, for all that it is an excellent resource and a great effort, actually shows us not where the jelly is, but where people have looked for it. Which is not very hard in not many places. The cluster of occurrences near the UK is entirely due to a systematic programme of surveys of the Irish Exclusive Economic Zone, put in place in 2003 and continuing to this day. What the data does show us is that this is not a tropical species appearing in our waters now thanks to climate breakdown or whatever. It’s perfectly happy at the temperature it finds itself here, because (if we believe the theory that it is an introduced species) that’s what it’s used to in its natural range.

If now you’re wondering when Jit is going to tell you how this beast reached our waters: well, I would, but I’m not sure. A potential guess would be via the Panama Canal. What may be a little known facet of (most) jellyfish lifecycles is that they have a sessile “polyp” stage which is generally quite small and cryptic, and a mobile “medusa” stage which is the familiar jellyfish itself. The polyps tend to stick to ship bottoms, and (I have seen it alleged) since tighter rules on anti-fouling paints came in, the quantity of free-riders appearing all around the marine world from who knows where has increased markedly. However, this route seems unlikely because of the freshwater stage of a ship’s journey through the canal, which would not favour marine species clinging to the hull, which might explode. What about via the Suez canal? Marine all the way, and the species has been recorded in south-east Asia and the Med. In short, I’ve no idea, but you would have to twist my arm a long way – and I’m a certified wimp – to get me to say that “climate breakdown” had anything to do with it.

OK, I’m going to the MCS website now to look for the actual report…

…well, can’t find it. But I did find this:

Jellyfish play an important role in the carbon cycle, which in turn assists in climate regulation.

Yuk. Seriously? Dead things sinking?

By preying on fish which have an abundant population, jellyfish help to control fish stocks. Controlling these fish populations frees up some of the ocean’s resources, which can be used by less well-established fish species. This allows these fish species to grow and thrive, helping to enhance ocean biodiversity.

Codswallop. This practice of turning ecology into a nursery school story has got to stop. Nothing has purpose other than to survive and reproduce, and in the sea that generally means eating other animals. Life is not a just-so story.

“When an invasive species of jellyfish called Mnemiopsis entered the Black Sea and preyed on fish, it had a devastating impact on the fish populations and the Turkish fishing industry. But jellyfish later came to the rescue, when the Bereo [sic] species was introduced to the waters. Bereo [sic] prey on Mnemiopsis and almost nothing else – this meant the number of invasive jellies decreased, the number of fish increased once again, and the ecosystem was able to recover.

Is that so? I was under the impression that the anchovy stock collapsed by overfishing. To my way of thinking, this might have increased the abundance of zooplankton, leaving a banquet on offer for a few jellyfish that happened to get pumped out of a ballast tank into the Black Sea, allowing them to multiply like exponents. Naturally when you can practically walk across the Black Sea on the backs of one introduced species of jellyfish, it’s not surprising that another species, this time a jellyfish predator, would thrive and do well when pumped out of some other ballast tank. Alas for the expert writer, the genus “Bereo,” which sounds like a biscuit, should read Beroë. Also, it is traditional to italicise Latin: Beroë. Also, you said species, and you gave the name of a genus. Tut.

I’m giving up there. I’ve already had enough of the MCS. I’ve yet to forgive them for supporting offshore wind, and the frankly juvenile information on their website has done nothing to win back my favour. [I know, they don’t care.]


There is no sign of any breakdown here other than in the Guardian’s grip on reality. Don’t just put out **** blaming everything that happens on “climate breakdown.” Find out more. Try to understand the subject. Ecology is generally common sense, as I may have said before. But if all you’re going to do is parrot “because climate breakdown,” we might as well have a “climate breakdown” announcer on the wall. We could call it Greta.


Jit: “Greta, why is there no cat food left in the cupboard?”

Greta (sarcastic): “Climate breakdown, I should think.”


*Same phylum, but different class. I probably knew most of the marine phyla for about 45 minutes once. The problem is that most of them look like worms.

Special Friday COP bonus

The figure shows the record of previous COPs in reducing global CO2 emissions:

via Climate Scepticism

November 4, 2022 at 05:17PM

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